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Blues send message to Avalanche with big win

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- The Colorado Avalanche may be trying to prove themselves to the upper-echelon of the NHL, but it was the St. Louis Blues who made a bold statement Thursday.

The Blues knocked the Avalanche down a notch in convincing fashion, getting contributions from a large number of players, and with a 7-3 victory sent a message to their new Central Division rivals that maybe they're not quite on their level yet.

T.J. Oshie assisted on four goals (his first career four-point game), David Backes and Derek Roy each had a goal and two assists, Alexander Steen scored his League-leading 15th and 16th goals of the season, and Vladimir Tarasenko and Alex Pietrangelo each had two points for the Blues (12-2-3), who are 4-0-1 in their past five games and 7-1-1 in their past nine.

The Blues did it with special teams, going 3-for-4 with the man advantage, and with their top unit of Oshie, Backes and Steen collecting nine points. Jaroslav Halak stopped 21 shots, helping St. Louis defeat Colorado for the fifth straight time at Scottrade Center.

"It just feels good to get the two points," Oshie said. "It feels good to be playing the right way and get a win against a good team. Whether they played well tonight or whatever, we got the two points and that's the main thing to look at here."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said he was pleased with his team's effort but saw some flaws.

"I think we learned that the plan against them works, but what they're good at we need to work on, and what we're good at they need to work on," Hitchcock said. "There wasn't much play in the neutral zone. There was a ton of play in each zone. Both teams, with the way they play in the offensive zone, gave each other trouble. So we've got some things moving forward that we need to get better at, and I'm sure they do to."

Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly scored for the Avalanche (14-4-0). Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Semyon Varlamov combined for 22 saves. Varlamov replaced Giguere for the second period, but Giguere returned at the start of the third after Varlamov allowed two goals on six shots.

"There are nights like this," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "One thing I like about our team, even when it was 7-2 we never stopped. We kept going at them. We lost our focus a bit in the second but I thought we got it back in the third.

"We're 14-4 and we played a really good game in Carolina [on Tuesday] and the puck didn't bounce our way tonight. But I think we learned a lot from this."

After that 2-1 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Avalanche dropped back-to-back games for the first time this season and allowed their most goals in a game.

"We expected them to be physical, and we can play against any physical team in this League," Giguere said. "We have guys who can respond in that scenario. They are a good team but we know we can compete against them."

The teams traded goals in the first period, with Derek Roy putting the Blues ahead on a power play -- the Avalanche came into the game a perfect 20-for-20 on road penalty kills -- before MacKinnon tied it with a power-play goal of his own.

It was the ninth straight game the Blues scored first and 14th time in 17 games.

The Colorado goal extended Paul Stastny's point streak to five games (three goals, two assists) and it was the 27th point of his career against the Blues (17th assist) in 22 games.

The Blues took over in the second period, outscoring the Avalanche 4-0. The game then took a crazy turn with three fights in the final 3:14 of the period.

Backes gave the Blues the lead for good with his first goal in 10 games when he slammed a shot top-shelf past Giguere 2:49 into the second.

Steen's first of the game put the Blues up 3-1 when their top line outworked the Avalanche in their end; Backes fed a backhand to Steen, whose slap shot beat Giguere high top-shelf. Giguere, who was 5-0-0 on the season and had allowed five goals on 165 shots, was pulled, and after returning wound up allowing five goals on 23 shots.

The goal extended Steen's NHL-leading point streak to 12 games (11 goals and four assists). The most recent Blues player to have such a streak was Keith Tkachuk during the 2002-03 season.

Tarasenko scored his sixth of the season when he raced to a puck in the Colorado zone and greeted Varlamov with a slap shot top-shelf at 12:09 for a 4-1 lead.

A former Avalanche connection would strike against their former team when Chris Stewart scored the Blues' third power-play goal on four tries. He collected Kevin Shattenkirk's shot from the high slot and lifted a backhand over Varlamov on the doorstep at 14:39 to make it 5-1. It was Shattenkirk's 10th point in the past 10 games.

Shattenkirk and Stewart were acquired by the Blues from the Avalanche as part of a trade that sent Erik Johnson to Colorado in 2011.

"We really dialed up our checking," Hitchcock said of the second period. "Our checking caused them to take penalties, checking created turnovers. When we did that, it created the tempo in our game that we wanted to. When we dialed up our checking, [it] really had an impact in the game."

Steen's second of the game and 16th of the season came after Backes lifted a puck toward Giguere, and in an attempt to catch it, it dropped at his skates and Steen charged in and poked it in 2:11 into the third period.

Duchene would speed between a pair of Blues defensemen and lift a puck past Halak 4:36 into the third to make it 6-2.

Jay Bouwmeester's first of the season came from the high slot, beating Giguere top-shelf at 8:36, before O'Reilly would knock in a loose puck to the left of Halak with 8:54 remaining in the Blues' convincing victory.

"We were able to roll four lines, four lines that were willing to play hard on the puck and win battles along the walls and just kind of keep them [in] it, and getting into the O-zone and let some skill interchange and shots with traffic at the net," Backes said. "... A good win for our guys, but it's one win out of 17 so far. There's 82 in the year.

"[Colorado's] played good hockey for a month-and-a-half now. They're a force to be reckoned with. It was a see-saw first period and we found our game maybe before they found theirs. We really had a textbook second period for us, and in the third, a couple where bad luck seemed to follow them. We'll take it. We've been on the other side of that too. There's some pride there and they kept playing."

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